Multi-millionaires who keep Blair in his office

Identities of business tycoons making large gifts have not been made public by Labour
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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's office yesterday refused to confirm the names of donors to his private office fund, because, it said, it did not know the identity of them. The details of the office funding have not been made public along with the rest of Labour Party funding.

But Labour's shift from mainly union funding to high-profile "Labour Luvvies" and high-donation big businesses, is evident. Yesterday, it was revealed that some of Britain's richest tycoons have given donations to the recently formed Labour Leader's Office Fund, under an arrangement which deliberately disguises their identities.

The donors are said to include Sir Trevor Chinn, chairman of Britain's biggest motor dealers, who was knighted by the Conservatives; Sir Emmanuel Kaye, a multi-millionaire, award- winning industrialist and former leading figure in the CBI; Sir Alex Bernstein, former chairman of Granada; and Bob Gavron, a publishing millionaire who has publicly donated to the Labour Party.

Sir Trevor has confirmed he is a donor. But a spokesman for Mr Blair said yesterday: "We don't know whether the names are accurate. It's a blind trust. Mr Blair certainly doesn't know."

The "blind trust" exists to avoid accusations of cash for favours. Recipients are unaware of the identity of their donors so that no link exists between money and political influence. Only three trustees - the former Home Secretary Lord Merlyn-Rees, Baroness Jay and Baroness Dean, former general secretary of the printing union Sogat - know who the mystery donors are.

The spokesman said that the Office Fund, understood to benearly pounds 500,000, is being used to pay Mr Blair's 15-strong staff and cover private expenses. It was set up last year with the approval of Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

As news of the secret fund emerged, Conservatives were quick to accuse Labour of hypocrisy. But Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, pointed out that the fund is declared in the Register of Members' Interests. Referring to protests by the Tory party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, and the Prime Minister, he told The Independent: "I challenge them to join with Labour... in agreeing for Lord Nolan to hold an inquiry into party political funding."

In 1985, unions contributed about 80 per cent of Labour's income; party officials now estimate it as nearer 50 per cent.

Mr Blair is attracting record funding from businesses who believe it increasingly likely he will become prime minister. As the names show, that funding is coming from traditionally Tory supporters. This is largely down to the influence of Paul Blagbrough, a former executive at Save & Prosper, who took over as Labour's director of finance in 1993. He is credited with revolutionising the way the party raises funds.

Following the millionaire publisher Paul Hamlyn's significant donation in 1990, Mr Blagbrough saw that, by pursuing wealthy donors, he could give Labour a veneer of success.

The party subsequently set up the 1,000 Club "to acknowledge supporters who donate a minimum of pounds 1,000 a year to the party". New, high-profile supporters included the actor Stephen Fry and the comedian Ben Elton. But Mr Blair made it clear he was more interested in being backed by big business and began wooing potential donors with business forums and glittering fund-raising.

His strategy appears to have worked. Last year, David Sainsbury, chairman of the supermarket group, announced he would vote Labour. Pearson and Tate & Lyle, both donors to the Tory party, made significant donations. One of the most recent donors was Matthew Harding, Britain's 87th richest man, who pledged pounds 1m to Labour before dying in a helicopter crash last month. He joined Swraj Paul, the chairman of the Caparo Group, Chris Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, and Philip Jeffrey, who made his fortune from the DIY chain Fads.

Many of Labour's best-known donors will not confirm they are giving donations at all. They are believed to include Lord Hollick, head of United News & Media; Greg Dyke the television executive; the broadcaster and writer Melvyn Bragg; the film producer David Puttnam; and the football manager Kevin Keegan.

But the revelation about Mr Blair's latest high-profile support - with its message that Labour has the support of business leaders - is one leak that is unlikely to worry the Labour leader at all.

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